When the draw were made last Friday, pundits quickly pencilled in a mouth-watering fourth round showdown between Andy Murray and Canadian young gun Milos Roanic.
But in keeping with the theme of upsets at this year’s championships, Sam Querrey thwarted that potential match-up, surviving a barrage of aces – and dishing up many of his own – on his way to a 6-7(3), 7-6(7), 7-6(8), 6-4 victory.
“This is definitely my biggest wins in a long time. It was a big moment, a big court and it feels great,'' he said. '' I was out [with injury] for a while and I feel like I’m coming back, my ranking’s moving up. It’s just nice to be in the third round of a slam again.”
After peaking at a career-high ranking of No.17 in early 2011, Querrey had become somewhat of the forgotten man in American tennis. Compatriots Mardy Fish and John Isner stole the headlines by reaching the top 10, while Andy Roddick’s occasional brilliant wins – such as over Roger Federer in Miami in March – and ongoing injury concerns generated attention.
Querrey also faded from the scene due to a severe elbow injury sustained at Queen's in June 2011. It necessitated surgery and required three months of rehabilitation before he returned to tennis ranked outside the top 100.
“It probably took a month once I was playing again to really trust myself with the motion of swinging all out on my serve,” he revealed.
“I thought I was just going to come back and pick up right where I left off, playing-wise, but it really is tough. You think you can just turn it around but you’ve got to have patience, you’ve got to be positive and the hard work will pay off eventually.”
It’s been a slow but steady comeback for the 24-year-old – he currently sits at No.64 in the rankings – but this victory takes him into the third round at a major for the first time in almost two years.
Beginning late on Thursday on No.1 Court, it was a match between two extremely evenly-matched players, both stylistically and on the stat sheet. Play had been postponed with scores locked at one-set-all and 3-3 in the third when the light faded.
The contest evoked memories of the serve-fests that characterised men’s tennis at Wimbledon in the 1990s. It wasn’t quite like watching Sampras, Ivanisevic, Krajicek, Philippoussis and Rusedski in action – there were a few too many rallies for that – but with both Raonic and Querrey holding serve regularly, tie-breaks were the flavour du jour.
The Canadian showed slightly more polish to win the opening set tie-break convincingly, but the two breakers that followed were both intense affairs. It was Querrey who played the bigger points better, taking a two-sets-to-one lead shortly after the pair had returned to court in much chillier, gustier conditions than Thursday’s summer humidity.
Raonic was further deflated when Querrey immediately broke serve to begin the fourth. After consolidating the break by holding for 2-0, the American maintained his advantage for the remainder of the set. He sealed victory with his 21st ace of the match.
Next up for Querrey is Marin Cilic, another in the Raonic mould. The pair have met twice before – at Wimbledon in 2009 and a fortnight ago at Queen's – with the Croatian victorious each time. The winner faces a likely battle with Murray, who must overcome Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
And so the British fourth seed’s path to the title remains obscured by tall players with booming serves. With his growing confidence, Querrey hopes he will have the chance to play the spoiler.
“The last month I feel like I’ve been a better competitor,” he said. “I feel like I'm back to that place where I was a year ago where, you know, I could tough out these long matches and kind of fight my way through them better than I was the first part of the year.”